Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Princess Leia’s impact on my childhood was minimal and mostly to do with her hair. I admired it, but only because I liked braids in general, though I preferred the way Pippi Longstocking wore hers: a horizontal braid arrow that seemed to pierce her head. I can’t tell you how many wire coat hangers I unraveled and stabbed through my braids, trying to force my hair to defy gravity too. It was a point of contention between my mother and me, so much so that I assumed her little lapel button with the crossed out hanger on it was a warning directed at me.
My true Carrie Fisher awakening came by virtue of her book, Postcards from the Edge, a witty, blunt, lightly fictionalized account of her time in rehab. Perusing my quote book, I assume I was about fourteen when I read Postcards—the thicket of Fisher’s quotes I chose to record are smack between excerpts from Woody Allen and Sylvia Plath, the infamous dynamic duo of teenage angst and hilarity. Fisher’s novel is chockablock with lines like “I narrate a life I’m reluctant to live,” and “describing herself was her way of being herself;” I related so much I thought my head might fall off. From there, I sucked down each book she published, spitting her insightful one-liners into a series of notebooks I kept through college. (Philosophy professors and lesbian folk singers replaced Plath, but Allen stuck around.)
In 2007, I returned to The Geffen Playhouse where I’d worked for a year in ticket sales, to see Wishful Drinking, Fisher’s one-woman show. The Geffen is a magical dollhouse of a theatre; intimate, with a lobby that spills into a courtyard lit by twinkling lights. Working there was my first taste of what it meant to live in L.A. Sure I’d spent my shifts crammed into a tiny cubbyhole shared with a rotating bunch of oddballs (the Englishwoman who microwaved fish stew, a retired astrophysicist, some set builder guy who’s claim to fame was that Tori Spelling had given him not one but two lollipops on his last job), but I got to attend glittery red carpet premieres and once ran into Steve Martin walking the halls. (I’m pretty sure the Steve Martin thing happened, but I’ve told the story so many times, it feels more fairy-tale than truth.)
Seeing Fisher at the Geffen seemed like some kind of synchronicity, a childhood idol had chosen to grace a space through which I used to wander barefoot still sporting my college lesbian overalls. The show itself though, then in its infancy, was uneven. While imbued with Fisher’s characteristic amalgamation of candor and whimsy, it meandered. It was lovely just to spend time with Fisher—and the show truly does feel like an impromptu get-together—however, Wishful Drinking’s only through-line seemed Fisher herself. At the time, this bothered me.
This week Fisher kicked off Wishful Drinking’s limited two-week Chicago engagement. Since working out the kinks in LA, she’s taken the show across the US, playing to enthusiastic crowds and even receiving a Grammy nomination for the show’s album. Myself, I approached Wishful Drinking with trepidation, (possibly a byproduct of the hot pink tights I chose to wear). Hours lost in a room with an idol can be treacherous, dragging or accelerating at will. This time, I wanted to leave the theatre feeling as connected to Fisher as I had at fourteen, transferring her words from her book to mine.
Happily, the show’s 2011 incarnation is tighter, and although the Bank of America Theatre provides a more impersonal backdrop, Fisher has grown increasingly comfortable incorporating her audience into the event. Possessed of a presence somehow both unassuming and indefatigable, Fisher takes the audience through everything from her celebrity strewn childhood, a tumultuous marriage to Paul Simon, battles with bi-polar disorder, to of course Star Wars.
Fisher has been criticized for cribbing from her own books, an utterly forgivable impulse. If I were as funny as Fisher no doubt I’d quote myself more than I do already (I was saying this just the other day.). Plus a statement like “instant gratification takes too long” is perhaps even more apt plopped into the show or gracing Fisher’s twitter account than it was falling from Meryl Streep’s lips when Postcards became a movie back in 1990.
True to form, Fisher packs her two hours of stage time with clever observations and sardonic asides some of which I recognized from the show’s initial engagement, others of which seem newly added or even extemporaneous. While Wishful Drinking does experience a slight second act slump, multiple final anecdotes piling on top of each other, Fisher’s comedic timing, her ability to stretch and pull a moment with just an understated expression overshadows any possible flaws.
In the end, I don’t think it’s too forgiving to say that a show like Wishful Drinking is if not stronger for its imperfections, more nuanced--kind of like Fisher herself.
Wishful Drinking runs through October 16th. Purchase tickets at www.BroadwayinChicago.com
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," is forthcoming from Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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